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South Africa Travel Guide

Author: Charlotte Boswell

Located at the southernmost tip of the great African continent, South Africa is a melting pot of vibrant cultures, cosmopolitan cities, fabulous food and some of the world’s finest wildlife experiences. After a fascinating yet turbulent history, today South Africa is extremely multicultural and young at heart, often described as Africa’s ‘Rainbow Nation’. From cosmopolitan Cape Town to the plains of Kruger National Park, our South Africa travel guide highlights the very best the country has to offer.

Why visit South Africa?

South Africa’s combination of wildlife, scenery, culture and sophisticated cities is unrivalled in Africa, making it one of the continent’s most popular destinations. Whether interested in history, nature or food, there is something for everyone. Explore historic battlefields, spot wildlife in spectacular national parks and enjoy top culinary experiences in award-winning restaurants and wine estates. Easy to reach with a number of flights daily from the UK, it is also easy to get around with an extensive domestic air network and excellent road conditions. It is also a fantastic destination to visit year-round and has a wide range of accommodation ranging from small boutique hotels and family campsites to luxurious safari lodges and international chain hotels.

Bo Kaap's colourful streets in Cape Town
Bo Kaap in Cape Town
Zebras in Kruger National Park
Zebra in Kruger National Park

Things to see and do in South Africa

Go wine tasting in the Western Cape's Winelands

South Africa’s stunning Cape Winelands boast some of the country’s most beautiful scenery. A little over an hour’s drive from Cape Town, the Winelands are a wonderful place to spend a few days wine tasting and relaxing in the picturesque and peaceful countryside. Colonial settlement started here in the late 17th century where both Stellenbosch and Franschhoek were founded. Both towns, surrounded by mountains and vineyards, pride themselves on the surrounding wine estates, many of which home to pioneering restaurants with young, innovative chefs at the helm. When visiting the Winelands a visit to Boschendal Winery is a must. Sample a deliciously light Pinot Noir paired with homemade biltong under the 300-year old oak tree that overlooks the manicured rose gardens.

Discover the once Zulu Kingdom of KwaZulu-Natal

A compelling region of rich history, cultural diversity and spectacular scenery, KwaZulu Natal is a fantastic choice for those looking for a destination that is relatively untouched and great for second-time visitors. Starting in the energetic coastal city of Durban, travel towards the beautiful Drakensberg Mountain range and the historic battlefield sites of Rorke’s Drift and Isandlwana. KwaZulu Natal is also home to some of the country’s finest wildlife reserves which offer an unrivalled opportunity to spot the ‘Big 5’. The protected iSimangaliso Wetland Park is another must-see whilst in the region.

Explore cosmopolitan Cape Town

Having recently won the Telegraph’s ‘Best City’ award, Cape Town is one of the world’s most eclectic and exciting cities. Set amongst the iconic peaks of Table Mountain and the crashing waves of the Atlantic, Cape Town enjoys a cosmopolitan culture and is home to a fascinating yet turbulent history which is evident throughout the city. Scale Table Mountain or Lion’s Head to be rewarded with spectacular views over the city, amble along the atmospheric V&A Waterfront to sample some of the country’s finest seafood and enjoy sundowners at picturesque Camps Bay. Further out of the city lies the wine region of Constantia, penguins of Boulders Beach and the Cape Peninsula.

Penguins at Boulders Beach in Cape Town
Boulders Beach in Cape Town
Drakensberg Mountains in KwaZulu Natal
Drakensberg Mountains in KwaZulu Natal
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Search for the 'Big 5' on safari

As one of the best places to view wildlife in the world, South Africa offers excellent and ethical wildlife encounters throughout the country. Kruger National Park in the north east of the country is one of Africa’s largest game reserves with a high density of the ‘Big Five’ including lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and buffalo. Both the Western and Eastern Cape are also home to some exceptional and non-malarial private game reserves including Gondwana, Pumba and Shamwari. Further east along the coast of the KwaZulu Natal province lies iSimangaliso Wetland Park. This untouched and protected area features many lakes housing crocodile, hippo and flamingo, whereas elephant, leopard and giraffe inhabit the grasslands. Sodwana Bay to the north is known for its colourful coral reefs.

Travel the spectacular Garden Route

Sandwiched between the Klein Karoo and arguably one of the world’s most beautiful coastlines, the Garden Route extends over 300km between Mossel Bay and Storms River in the Eastern Cape. As one of the best-known driving routes in the world, the Garden Route is a popular option for a South Africa itinerary where popular stop offs include Knysna, Plettenberg Bay and Tsitsikamma National Park. The Garden Route is dotted with excellent beaches and seaside towns whilst inland you will find rolling hills, scenic lagoons and the mountainous peaks of Outeniqua.

Tsitsikamma on the Garden Route
Tsitsikamma on the Garden Route
Lion in the Eastern Cape, South Africa
Lion in the Eastern Cape

Classic South Africa Itineraries

To experience the very best of South Africa we have devised a number of itineraries that follow popular routes, common themes and cover the key places to visit. As a specialist tour operator, all of these itineraries are suggestions and can be completely tailored to create a unique and individual itinerary.

Cape Town, Winelands and the Garden Route

A classic route, and perfect combination for first-time visitors, discover South Africa’s fabulous wine, wildlife and scenery on a two-week self-drive itinerary. Begin in Africa’s most cosmopolitan city, Cape Town, before visiting the vineyards and wineries of Stellenbosch. Whale watch in Hermanus, spot elephants in the wild and drive along the beautiful Garden Route ending in Port Elizabeth.

See the Self-Drive: Western Cape Winelands and the Garden Route itinerary.

Cape Town, Kruger and the Victoria Falls

Combine three of the continents most iconic experiences on this African adventure between South Africa and Zambia. Start in Cape Town, a melting pot of cultures, cuisines and adventurous activities that are complimented by the city’s breathtaking scenery. Travel to Kruger National Park, one of Africa’s largest reserves, and enjoy a safari in style before ending in Livingstone to witness the mighty Victoria Falls.

For a detailed itinerary see Cape Town, Kruger National Park and the Mighty Victoria Falls.

Southern Africa

Southern Africa is a wonderfully diverse region boasting some of the continent’s richest wildlife and spectacular landscapes. With excellent international and regional flight options, South Africa is a great place to start a Southern Africa multi-centre holiday. Combine with the tumbling orange dunes and elephant parks of Namibia; the twisting waterways and luxurious safari camps of Botswana or the ancient rock art and glistening lakes of Zimbabwe.

Contact one of our Africa specialists for further inspiration in Southern Africa.

Victoria Falls in Zambia
Victoria Falls in Zambia
Robberg Nature Reserve in Plettenberg Bay
Robberg Nature Reserve in Plettenberg Bay
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Useful travel information for South Africa

Our comprehensive South Africa travel advice contains lots of useful information on the country, however, below are answers to common questions directly related to South Africa that we are frequently asked.

When is the best time to visit South Africa?

South Africa is a fantastic year-round destination. As it is located in the southern hemisphere, the seasons are in reverse to the UK with December and January the height of summer with hot temperatures and the peak time for tourism. South Africa’s autumnal months, May and June, and spring months, October and November, are often the best time to travel where days are warm, evenings cooler and hotel prices lower. July and August is the winter where the weather can be chilly in certain regions, but this time of year can often be the best time for wildlife safaris.

What are my flight options to South Africa?

British Airways, South African Airlines and Virgin Atlantic operate direct flights from London Heathrow to Johannesburg and there are also daily direct flights between London Heathrow and Cape Town with British Airways. Turkish Airlines, Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways also connect the UK with a selection of key South African cities via their respective hubs. Direct flights to Johannesburg take around 11 hours whereas it is about 11.5 hours to Cape Town.

Do I need a visa for South Africa?

Holders of British Citizen passports travelling for tourism purposes, for up to 90 days, do not need a visa. Your passport must be valid for a minimum period of 6 months from the date of exit from South Africa and you will need at least two blank pages in your passport.

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